(March 23, 2020 / JNS) Israel is currently battling two simultaneous crises: the first with the deadly coronavirus pandemic and another on the political front with advocates on both sides arguing that democracy is under threat.
Amid the political fallout, Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz’s has made overtures with the Joint Arab List Party to back a Gantz-led minority government.
At the same time, Gantz is being backed by former defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beitenu Party draws it base of support from the country’s largely secular Russian-speaking population. While firmly right-wing on most issues, Lieberman’s support of a center-left minority government backed by the Arab parties has drawn criticism within Israel and abroad.
Michael Lobovikov, who just ran for the Knesset on the Likud list, told JNS that the Russian Jewish community, especially in the United States is upset with Lieberman’s decision.
“People were upset,” Lobovikov told JNS in a phone interview. “The Russian-speaking community in the U.S. is very right-wing. Now, they want to support Netanyahu, especially after Lieberman aligned himself with the Arab parties.”
As a result, Lobovikov has created an umbrella group of Russian-speaking Jewish organizations, called the United Jewish Diaspora in order to address these concerns.
Recently, the United Jewish Diaspora sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud), signed by representatives of Jewish Diaspora communities from different continents. The signatories expressed their distaste for any center-left government that includes anti-Zionist Arab parties.
The letter stated that the signatories are “concerned by the opposition’s attempts to ignore the choice of the Zionist majority” and are disappointed with Blue and White as well as Yisrael Beiteinu for including the Arab Knesset members, “who are known for openly supporting the interests of Israel’s enemies.”
Joint List Knesset member Ahmad Tibi recently stated in a radio interview that “the Land of Israel is a colonialist phrase. I contemptuously reject the term ‘Judea and Samaria.’ This is the Palestinian bank, the occupied Palestinian territories.”
Another Joint List Knesset member, Heba Yazbak, last week told an Arabic radio channel that her political agenda “opposes and fights state Zionism and advocates the removal of the state’s Jewish and Zionist essence.”
‘The will of the Zionist majority’
Lieberman has gone back and forth on joining forces with the Joint List. In September of last year, he wrote on Facebook: “Under no conditions and not for any reason will we sit with the ultra-Orthodox, the messianics, the Joint List or the Democratic Union.”
Just a month later, in November, Lieberman backtracked, saying he might join such a coalition if Netanyahu refused to drop the “messianic bloc,” likely referring to the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, as well as some of the right-wing nationalist parties.
The letter concluded by saying the signatories “decided to stand up united and to support all efforts aimed at forming a national coalition that expresses the will of the Zionist majority.”
In response to the letter, Alex Selsky, CEO of the World Yisrael Beiteinu movement, which is affiliated with the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, told JNS in a written statement: “The World Yisrael Beiteinu movement has never been anti-religious and sits in one faction with the Mizrachi and Lavi religious and Orthodox movements in the World Zionist Congress. Our members and supporters around the world come from all religious backgrounds, from ultra-Orthodox to secular. Our ideology and actions lend themselves towards Israel retaining a strong Jewish and Zionist character. … We seek full equality of contribution by all Israelis regardless of their background. Those who oppose this should explain and justify their unequal and unsustainable worldview for Israel.”
Selsky continued: “It would behoove these signatories instead to raise their voices on the unacceptable policies of a current government, which is begging Qatar to keep providing tens of millions of dollars in protection money to Hamas, while they rain rockets down on the heads of Israeli civilians.”
Lobovikov said the umbrella organization has no connection to Likud other than the fact that he himself is affiliated with it and had asked a few people from the World Likud branches to join.
Lobovikov believes that any government led by Gantz will not last and therefore “we must be ready for the next elections,” he said. “Now, people are thinking about what to do next. The idea is to establish a worldwide Zionist organization. People want to be involved and to be active in Zionist activities.”
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